Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked Review

Imagine a video game recipe comprised of a few parts of Final Fantasy, a dash of Onimusha, a hint of Parapa the Rapper and a good helping of hip-hop thrown in for good measure. Stir gently, bake for 20 hours and you have Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked.

The game, developed by Grasshopper, takes its roots from the anime cartoon show of the same name: Samurai Champloo. The premise of the show revolves around three central characters: A girl named Fuu and two expert swordsmen, Jin and Mugen. Jin is a soft spoken Samurai whose sword skills are exacting and swift while Mugen is a, undisciplined, volatile swordsman whose fighting methods incorporate break dancing moves and sword action. The three characters roam the countryside in the hopes of avenging the death of Fuu,s mother. The setting is during the Edo period of Japan, (1603-1867) with lots of hip-hop tunes and dialog occurring in the series (naturally). If this scenario sounds rather confusing, you,ll quickly understand two things about the television show and the video game. First, the concept is nothing like you,ve ever seen before, and secondly, the premise is so offbeat that some will walk away, bewildered by the clashing themes. Whether this strange concoction of ideas can be successfully translated into a video game is the subject matter at hand.

For Samurai Champloo fans, it will come as a shock that the game has been rendered in 3D and not in the format of the television show,s 2D anime cell art. For those who are not familiar with the series, the first few minutes of the game,s intro will have them wildly spinning with mental vertigo as they try to make sense of a game which is based upon old time feudal Japan and modern day hip-hop. The uninitiated will wonder if they might have stepped into the realm of the Twilight Zone.

The gameplay is classic hack and slash with several twists. Through a series of button mashing and timed attacks, the characters are able to attain certain levels of enhanced fighting modes which deal a flurry of attacks against enemies. There are three levels; hyper mode, tate mode and trance mode. To enter any one of these various heightened states of battle, the gamer must time specific button presses in synch with a combo tree display. If the gamer is successful in matching a sequence of button presses, a new phase of fighting occurs. During battles, the amount of damage you inflict upon enemies activates a tension gauge, which is displayed as a dancing outline in the lower left of the screen. When the dancing figure is in its highest state, the gamer has a chance to dole out special attacks.

But the game is more than button mashing. Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked also has a surprisingly engaging storyline. The story unfolds with Fuu, Mugen and Jin being tricked into boarding a ship with the offer of free food. The trio find themselves on the start of a journey in which they help a diminishing Japanese tribe to survive a takeover of their land. In addition to this, they also have promised to help a girl find and save her brother. The brother, Worso, is a new character in the game not found in the TV series. He possesses a magical gem which is sought by enemy forces. The girl has the other gem which also has magical powers. From here, the group engages in a myriad of adventures and fights.

With the addition of cut scenes throughout the game, the balance of action and storyline is a good one. After finishing a level, the progress and score of the gamer is displayed. The game starts out with two selectable game characters: Jin and Mugen. Upon the completion of the game, a third "secret" character is made available – Worso. Each character has his own specific storyline, so playing through the game several times will offer a different experience and adventure with each different character.

Any stage which has been completed can be revisited and played again from a menu screen. An important aspect of visiting previous locations has to do with Castle Town. It is here where you can purchase and upgrade weapons, buy various items to assist you and your comrades on your journey and buy hip hop records. The selection and variety of music that you have with you affects the fighting combos that your characters are able to pull off. You have the ability to select no more than two tracks at any particular time. These music tracks can be switched during gameplay and are used as a strategy to defeat enemies. Yes, strange, but fun.

The cut scenes feature the original voice talents of the TV show and prove to add a familiar setting for fans. Gamers not familiar with the show will hear distinct similarities of Jin,s voice with that of Clint Eastwood – a low, quiet whisper. The interaction between the three characters is funny and revealing. With each cut scene, a little bit more is revealed about the dynamics between Fuu, Jin and Mugen as well as their personal attributes. Final Fantasy it isn,t, but SCS gets some high marks for an offbeat, interesting story.

Graphics for the game are another odd mixture in vogue with the odd game premise. The animation sequences are done in 3D while the fighting action appears in a cross between cell shaded animation and 3D. The unusual meld of graphic styles is amusing if not entertaining. During action sequences, the graphics go into various stages of change and offer a good deal of variety during fighting.

The balance of action and storyline, as mentioned before, is just about right. But a word to the wise – make sure you have enough free time when you play, as there are few checkpoints during the game. If you find yourself in a situation where you are killed or defeated by the enemy, you will start from the beginning of a level if you quit before completion. In some cases, the levels last up to an hour. In addition to the main storyline, there are mini-games for your characters to join in on, like power eating contests and beetle wrestling matches. We weren,t kidding when we said this was an unusual game.

The sound effects of the game are often funny as the enemies go over the top in their voice acting when they are killed. Get ready for an abundance of "Aiiiieeeeeee," and "Eeeeeeeeahhhhh!" in battles. The screaming will eventually be filtered out by you, but the first exposure to the cheesy acting will make you laugh. The premise of hip-hop music being an essential part of the game is novel. Music, which is purchased from the Castle Town record shop, is used throughout the game. The tunes are mild and rather forgettable, but they do add a nice element of background music during fighting sequences. Fans of Samurai Champloo will enjoy seeing their characters in 3D and the familiar banter between Jin, Mugen and Fuu.

Samurai Champloo: Sidetracked is on track in presenting an unlikely meld of elements originating from hip-hop music, Japanese history, traditional hack and slash fighting and a RPG-like storyline. The game, while sometimes bordering on repetitious fighting sequences, holds together as an entertaining and fresh game in the world of copy cat titles. Your experience and enjoyment of the game will hinge on your acceptance of such a strange game hybrid. But if you can suspend reality just long enough to get through the first half hour of the game, you may find that the title offers a unique and entertaining experience.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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